Finally, some good news: A new turtle species has been discovered.
Scientist and professor Dr. Uwe Fritz of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden, Germany and his international team have identified a new type of fringed turtle, also called matamata.
These reptiles don’t look like your usual house pet turtle; they hide in the mud and, as such, look like rocks covered in algae when underwater. They also don’t eat like other turtles, either: When prey approaches, it’s sucked into their large mouths and then swallowed whole.
“Until now, it was assumed that there was only one type of [armor-wearer] that was widespread in South America,” said Fritz in a Senckenberg press release, translated from German to English.
Fritz explained that while fringed turtles are known for their odd appearance and way of eating, little is known about their genetics — which is why the new species was only discovered now. Because previous studies indicated that matamatas can vary in appearance, Fritz and his team studied 75 DNA samples to see if there was a genetic difference — and indeed there was.
Apparently, the separation between the two species occurred 13 million years ago. Now, the newly discovered matamata can be found in Orinoco and Río Negro basins in South America, while the previously-known matamata turtles reside in the Amazon basin.
Fritz and his team released their findings in a recent paper in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, where they also discussed the issue of endangerment. As of now, they aren’t considered endangered, according to Professor Mario Vargas-Ramírez, first author of the paper.
That doesn’t mean these turtles aren’t in need of protection. Vargas-Ramírez continued: “Thousands of these bizarre-looking animals end up in the illegal animal trade and are confiscated by the authorities. We must protect these fascinating animals before it is too late.”